Of course the most fascinating observation we have been making all month is the ebb and flow of our mud puddle. Before the rain returned, the mud puddle area was dry and dusty and the children explored the perfect dirt to water ratio for creating the ideal mud. When the rain first began, it was a drippy, misty rain and we observed black spots on the dry dirt which the children guessed correctly was caused by rain drops.
Once the fall rains began in earnest, the mud puddle re-filled and the children delighted in playing in it by making mud pies and cakes and soup, by stirring it, splashing in it, running though it, forming mud balls and comparing the different types of mud, mud face painting and looking closely for animal footprints around the edges. We saw bird footprints on a few days and talked about why different birds have different kinds of feet.
Our clothing has changed too: everyone is wearing their rain pants, rain jackets and Bogs boots. There were several days this month where the children all needed their mittens, although it is difficult to explore nature with mittens on so they tend to come off and go on with regularity.
With all the rain, we have finally started seeing some mushrooms. We spotted many of the Doug fir collybia, tiny white mushrooms that grow directly out of fir cones. We also found many new shelf mushrooms forming – red belted polypores – as well as the funny looking orange jelly and yellow coral mushrooms. We noticed that the sparkling clear Doug fir sap has turned white and hard with the cooler temperatures.
Many of the insects and other forest floor creatures have begun entering hibernation. We had many opportunities to talk about hibernation as we uncovered quite a few sleeping millipedes, both the black with yellow spots kind and the smaller all-brown type. Towards the end of the month, the temperatures warmed again and we started seeing lots of small native banana slugs, many of them eating the star flower and elderberry leaves.
We have noticed that the light in the forest is changing. There were many days when we got to play our “hey, who turned out the lights” game. This increases the children’s observations of and awareness of quality of light in the forest during each season; Fall tends to have a lot of shifting light. On sunny days, we played with shadows on our forest theater curtain and also compared the different silhouettes that the various plants’ leaves made. We noticed too that the air is getting cold and moist enoughfor us to see our breath.
There has been great imagination play this month, with the children making Doug fir cone spaceships, animals and one legged men. We have played mostly with the theme of dragons, princesses, fairies and pixie dust. The children have impressed us with the depth of their imagination play and how much time they are spending in thoughtfully creating and negotiating play scenarios. The children built several fairy houses this month and we played around with building stick piles, to see how tall we could make them before they collapsed. Several classes spent time making nests out of sticks, leaves, soil and rocks for their “dragon eggs”. There was also a group of kids that spent a long time “fixing” the car (log) with their pretend screwdriver and hammer tools.
During the first part of the month, when the forest floor was still dry, we collected as many different colors of dirt as we could and compared them. We noticed that each variety of soil also had a different texture. We even found charcoal buried under the soil in one spot and took turns guessing what that was a clue about. This gave us opportunities to talk about how soil is formed and what it is made from.
We have spent a lot of time observing and discussing decomposition this month. First, when the forest was dry, we spent time picking decomposing logs apart with fingers and sticks to find insects inside or underneath the bark. As the moisture level in the forest increased, we noticed some decomposing logs were easier to break apart with our feet; this same decomposing wood was filled with water and we had great fun in squeezing water out of the wood.
We spent time this month making patterns and talking about what patterns are. One day we made a rock, cone, leaf, rock, cone, leaf pattern and challenged ourselves to guess what came next in the pattern as it grew longer and longer. We also enjoyed playing our “What’s Missing?” game which increases powers of observation, discernment and memory.
With fall come the winds and we had a lot of opportunity to observe wind. We noticed that wind is something you cannot see directly, only the evidence. We blew bubbles to see which way the wind was blowing and we watched the trees dance and sway. It was quite exhilarating watching seemingly rigid trees bending and then seeing and hearing the needles and leaves falling on us like rain. We found the forest floor has become littered with debris and a carpet of fir needles has spread throughout. We made many leaf spinners this month to hang on branches and dance in the breeze.
We made a lot of other nature art this month as the increased color palette of autumn invited creativity. We made shapes out of Doug fir cones and we drew in the fir needles carpet to make eye-catching spiral patterns. We collected different colors and shapes of leaves and created circular patterns with them, accentuating the various shades of fall coloration. We looked at the differences between the leaves and identified a new leaf that is rare in our forest: cottonwood.
We heard the pileated woodpecker, the raven and the native squirrel quite a bit this month as they prepare for the coming winter. We noticed though that most of the other birds are not as vocal this month. We had several chances to watch the chickadees and golden-crowned kinglets bathe in our bird baths.
In addition to all of these activities, we had fun this month climbing on logs near main camp, picking huckleberries, singing and dancing at Forest Theater, playing music and swinging on our new rope swing.
I leave you with an amazing example about how much and how quickly these children learn about nature when they have opportunities for hands-on outdoor exploration. Two of our newest students correctly identified forest plants: One two year old said, “This leaf is soft, is it a hazelnut?” and another two year old pointed to a leaf at our hazelnut grove and (correctly) said “there is a cottonwood leaf”, although the leaf was nowhere near where the cottonwood tree was that we had talked about the previous week.